What Is The Spirit, And How Does It Affect Us?
There are many worlds, among them those of plants, animals, people, and jinn. Our visible, material world addresses itself to our senses, and is the realm where God Almighty gives life, fashions, renews, changes, and causes things to die. Science concerns itself with its phenomena.
Above this world is the immaterial World of Divine Laws or Commands, the spirit’s home. To learn about this world, consider the following:
A book cannot exist without meaning, the main part of its existence, regardless of our excellent printing press or paper. The essence of life and the law of germination and growth stimulate a tree’s seed to germinate underground and grow into a tree. In their absence, there would be no trees.
Menstruation prepares a womb every month for insemination through a (biological) law. Millions of sperm head for the womb, but only one fertilizes the ovum. Another (biological) law causes menstruation to stop until birth. An embryo develops into a person through other (biological or embryological) laws. The Holy Book says:
We created man from a quintessence of clay. We then placed him as a drop in a place of rest firmly fixed. Then We made the drop into a leech-like structure suspended on the wall of the womb, and then of that leech-like structure We made a chewed-like substance. Then We made out of that chewed-like substance bones (skeletal system). Then We clothed the bones with flesh (muscles). Then We developed out of it another creation. So blessed be God the best to create (23:12-15).
This process occurs within three veils of darkness:
He created you in the wombs of your mothers, in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness (39:6).
These are the belly, womb, and caul or membrane; the fetal membranes’ constituents; or the decidua’s three regions: the decidua basalis, decidua capsularis, and decidua parietalis. The verse includes all of these meanings.
We derive such laws from these processes’ almost never-changing repetition. Observing surrounding (natural) phenomena reveals other laws, among them gravitation and repulsion, and water’s freezing and vaporization.
The spirit also is a unique living and conscious law issuing from the World of Divine Laws or Commands:
Say: “The spirit is of my Lord’s Command” (17:85) If the spirit had no life and consciousness, it would be a “regular” law; if a “regular” law had life and consciousness, it would become a spirit.
Science Cannot Define or Perceive the Spirit
All matter is composed of atoms, and atoms are made up of more minute particles. But the spirit is a simple, non compound entity, invisible but knowable through its manifestations in this world. We accept its existence and see its manifestations, but cannot know its nature. Such ignorance, however, does not negate its existence.
We see with our eyes. Although the main center of sight is located in the brain, the brain does not see. You do not say: “My brain sees,” but rather: “I see.” But what is this “I”? Does it have a brain, a heart, and other organs and limbs? Why are we unable to move when we die, although all our organs and limbs are there? Does a factory operate by itself, or does something else (i.e., electricity) cause it to work?
Any disconnect between the factory and its electrical source can reduce the factory to a heap of junk. Is this comparable to the spirit–body relationship? When death severs this connection, the body must be disposed of quickly, before it begins to rot and decompose.
The spirit is not an electrical power, but rather a conscious, powerful thing that learns and thinks, senses and reasons. It develops continually, usually in parallel with the body’s physical development, as well as mentally and spiritually through learning and reflection, belief and worship. As the spirit determines a person’s character, nature, or identity, each person is unique, although all of us are created from the same elements.
The Spirit Needs Our Body
The spirit must use material means to be manifested and function here. As the body cannot contact the World of Symbols or Immaterial Forms, the spirit cannot contact this world if there is no human heart, brain, or other bodily organs and limbs to mediate. The spirit functions through the body’s nerves, cells, and other elements. Therefore, if bodily systems or organs go awry, the spirit becomes disconnected and unable to command the body. Death occurs if this failure or illness severs the spirit–body relationship. Some meaningless hand or finger movements can be produced by stimulating certain areas of the brain, but these are only automatic bodily responses. The body needs the spirit, which is conscious and has free will, to produce meaningful movements.
Although psychoanalysts have offered explanations for dreams, dreams cannot be said to consist of the subconscious mind’s jumbled activities. Almost everyone has had true dreams. Many scientific or technological discoveries were seen first in dreams. Therefore, dreams point to something—the spirit—within us that can see in a different way while we sleep. Although the spirit sees with our eyes, smells with our nose, hears with our ears and so on, some people can see with their fingers or the tips of their noses, and smell with their heels.
The Spirit and Our Face
Our face opens on our inner world, for it discloses our character. Psychologists assert that almost all movements reveal character. Such observations resulted in physiognomy, the art of judging character from facial features. The spirit determines these features.
Our body’s cells are renewed continuously. Every day, millions of cells die and are replaced. Biologists say that all bodily cells are renewed every 6 months, and yet the face’s main features do not change. We recognize individuals through their unchanging facial features and fingerprints. A finger’s cells change, but its print never does. Each individual’s unique spirit stabilizes these distinguishing features.
Our Spirit Makes Us Unique
Our body experiences uninterrupted change via physical growth and development until a certain period, gradually becoming stronger and more perfect. Decay begins when this growth stops. Unlike our body, we grow in learning and development, decay spiritually and intellectually, or stop and change direction while developing or decaying. Our moral, spiritual, and intellectual education does not depend on our bodily changes.
Furthermore, our physical structure does not affect our moral, spiritual, and intellectual differences. Although composed of the same elements, we are morally and intellectually unique. Which part receives this moral and intellectual education? Which part is trained physically? Is physical training related to learning or moral and intellectual education? Are physically well-developed people smarter and more moral than others? If not, and if physical training or development do not affect our scientific, moral, and intellectual level, why should we not accept the spirit’s existence? How can we attribute learning and moral and intellectual education to the brain’s biochemical processes?
Our physical changes engender no parallel changes in our character, morality, or thinking. How can we explain this, other than by recognizing the spirit and its function as the center of thinking and feeling, choosing and deciding, learning and forming opinions and preferences, and causing character differences?
Our Spirit Feels and Believes or Denies
Each person has innumerable complex feelings: love and hate, happiness and sadness, hope and despair, and so on. We like and dislike, appreciate and disregard, experience fear and timidity as well as encouragement and enthusiasm. We repent, become excited, and long for various things. We have hundreds of words that express human feelings. Moreover, we do not all “feel” the same way.
We may reflect on our surroundings, the beauty of creation, develop ourselves through learning, compare and reason, and thus believe in the Creator. Worshipping and following His Commandments develops us morally and spiritually until we are perfected. How can we explain this if we do not have a conscious spirit? Can we attribute them to the brain’s biochemical processes?
If we are no more than a physical entity and attribute all our movements to the brain’s biochemical processes, why should we obey any laws? As our body is renewed every 6 months, the following conversation would be entirely logical:
– Judge: When did you murder the deceased?
– Defendant: One year ago.
– Judge: The murder was committed a year ago. The defendant’s cells, including those of his trigger finger, have been replaced. As the actual murderer cannot be punished, the jury should vote for acquittal.
How can anyone be no more than a physical entity, made up of movements, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and decisions due to the brain’s biochemical processes? Such assertions are untenable. The main part of our being is our living and conscious spirit, which feels, thinks, believes, wills, decides, and uses the body to enact its decisions.
The Spirit Is the Basis of Human Life
God acts in this world through causes. However, in many other worlds (e.g., those of ideas, symbols or immaterial forms, the inner dimensions of things, and spirits), He acts directly, and matter and causes do not exist. The spirit is breathed into the embryo directly, making it a direct manifestation of the Divine Name the All-Living and therefore the basis of human life. Like natural laws, which issue from the same realm as the spirit, the spirit is invisible and known through its manifestations.
In this world, matter is refined in favor of life. A lifeless body is lonely, passive, and static. But life enables a bee to interact with almost the entire world so that it can say: “This world is my garden, and flowers are my business partners.” The smaller a living body is, the more active, astonishing, and powerful life is. Compare a bee, a fly, or even a micro-organism with an elephant. The more refined matter is, the more active and powerful the body is. For example, burning wood produces flame and carbon, and heated water vaporizes. We cannot see the electrical energy in the atomic and subatomic worlds, but we know of its presence and power though its manifestations.
And so existence is not limited to this world. Rather, this world is only the apparent, mutable, and unstable dimension of existence, behind which lies the pure, invisible dimension that uses matter to be seen and known. As the spirit belongs to that dimension, it is pure and invisible.
The following arguments for the spirit’s existence also point to the Creator’s existence:
• Just as our body needs the spirit to command and govern it, the universe needs God to bring it into existence and to command and govern it.• Each body has one spirit that makes it alive and governs it. So there must be a single Lord, without partner, to create and govern the universe. Otherwise, disaster and confusion are inevitable.
• The spirit is not located in a specific bodily place or part. It may even leave the body and, as while dreaming, maintain its connection via an attached cord. Likewise, God Almighty is not contained by time or space. He is always present everywhere and nowhere, whereas the spirit is in the body and contained by time and space.
• There is only one sun, and the world is far from it. However, the sun is omnipresent through its heat and light, and through its reflection can even be in every transparent thing. Therefore we say it is nearer to things than things are to themselves. The spirit has the same relation with the body and each cell. This analogy may help us understand God’s relation with existence. He controls and directs all things at once like one thing, and although we are infinitely far from Him, He is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.
• The spirit is invisible and its nature is unknown. In the same way, we cannot think of or imagine God as He really is, for His Essence cannot be known. Like the spirit, God Almighty is known through the manifestations of His Names, Attributes, and Essence.
By M. Fethullah Gulen